Friday, April 14, 2006


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

I discovered Carl Sandburg when I was in junior high school. When I found out he had written several volumes on the life of Lincoln, I was hooked. The above verse is one of his short poems. I thought about that as I drove to Bangor this morning, because I was engulfed in fog. Maine is known for its heavy fog, and this was not the first time I have encountered it. Fortunately, it was not on the road so much; it seemed mostly to engulf the sides of the road.

At one particular spot, I could see only the gray of the highway. On each side of me was total whiteout. An active imagination could have rendered up some exciting ideas of what could be enshrouded in the mist. A dragon? A magic city? Well, of course, I had traveled that road many times, and I knew it was just farmland. All the same, it was eerie. An entire ocean could have been on one side and the world's highest mountain on the other, as far as I was concerned. I couldn't see a thing until I reached an area where the fog had lifted.

I guess all people have times in their lives when they feel they are operating in the unknown. It can be just as panicky as driving through fog. And you can't really make sense of anything until you come out of it and turn around to look.

We placed an ad for our ParaBody 220 gym system last week. It is an all-in-one weight machine, extremely heavy, and would be exceedingly difficult to move. As the months have gone by with our house on the market, we have wondered what we should do with this piece of equipment. Our new house won't be big enough to put it anywhere. We certainly can't picture ourselves dissassembling it, moving it, and reassembling it anyway. So we decided to sell it and placed the ad, with a condition inserted that "you will have to move it out yourself." I long ago lost the user's manual, but I did manage to salvage a piece of folded paper which revealed minimal instructions on where every part is located in the machine. I was relieved that I still had that piece of paper; the buyer would certainly need it to put the machine back together.

Ed called me at work yesterday about 9 a.m. He said a woman had called, interested in buying the gym, but she wanted to make sure we had the assembly instructions. So Ed, knowing I had been in charge of them, called me at work to ask me where they were. I knew they were somewhere, but the exact location I did not know, so I left work, took an early lunch break, and spent a good 30 minutes dashing about the house like a madwoman, looking for those instructions. I went through papers in my secretary desk. I went through papers by the computer. I went through papers in our closet, in the file cabinet, in the garage, in drawers. I was almost crying at this point. Ed tried to soothe me. "Don't blame yourself," he said. "It's not your fault. It all this house-selling stuff. We're constantly throwing papers everywhere for showings and we just have too much to keep track of." Well, that made me feel a little better, but where was that instruction paper?! I had it just a few days ago. I went back to work, planning on resuming the search at 2:30. The customer was coming at 3:30. I had to find that paper! How could we sell the machine without the paper?

Ah, try the web site, I thought. What a brilliant idea! These days you can download anything from web sites. But the only things on the company's web site were their most recent products. Dead end there.

The clock was ticking away. I called the fitness specialty store in Bangor where we bought the machine three years ago. No, they did not have a copy of the assembly instructions. But they did give me the phone number of a company to call. I called the number; it was the wrong number. I called the store again. The lady apologized for giving me the wrong number, said someone had been talking to her at the time, put me on hold, then came back with a different number. I kept watching the clock. It was 3:00 by that time. Where was that stupid paper?? I was clenching my jaw in frustration.

The second phone number was the right one, and I talked to a very pleasant woman. I explained that we were having to move the machine, we couldn't find the disassembly/reassembly instructions, and is there any way I could have her mail them to us - that is, if they even still had a copy of them?

This is when I felt the first glimmer of hope. Was the fog lifting? I could always tell the customer that the instructions would be here in the about 2 weeks. But the woman on the phone said she could just e-mail the document. E-mail me! Instant instructions! Woo-hoo! The answer to my prayer! So I gave her my e-mail address and she said she was sending the document as I was talking to her.

I looked at the clock. 3: 15. I could barely make it. I sat in front of the computer screen impatiently. 3:16. 3:17. 3:20. Where was the e-mail?

I called the company back. I got the same woman on the phone - hurray! - and she said she must have written my e-mail address down wrong, because her message was returned. After some checking back and forth, we realized she had indeed left out one letter in my e-mail address, so she corrected it and resent the document.

3:25. The e-mail popped up on the screen like an excited kernel from Orville Redenbacher. Yes! It's here! I hoped that she had sent the right document. It should be short, just a little diagram with some part names and arrows.

Dear reader, I have to say at this point that she did not send me the little diagram with part names and arrows. Instead, she sent me the whole user's manual - 29 pages of it! It took me 2 minutes to print it out, staple it, and voila - we had everything a buyer could possibly desire!

The customer did show up right after that and did indeed buy the machine, making plans to come back tomorrow to take it down and take it home. She was especially pleased to have the entire user's manual; in fact, that might have clinched the whole deal.

When I was in the fog of my frustration, the only good outcome I could possibly imagine was success in finding that missing piece of paper. Instead, I got the whole manual! If I hadn't lost the paper, I would never have had the user's manual. When I came out of the fog and looked back, I was grateful that I had lost the paper. Mired in the fog, appreciating the circumstances was the last thing on my mind.

I had a similar experience when we moved to Maine. I had worked in a Memphis hospital most of my working adult life. I had held positions of ward clerk, lab clerk, pathology secretary, cardiac rehab secretary - and I was about ready for a change. I wondered what it would be like to work outside the medical world. So the week after we moved, I saw an ad the local newspaper had placed for a receptionist/classifieds clerk. That certainly sounded interesting. I knew with my grammar and spelling skills, I would be great at dealing with classified ads. I sent in my resume. They called back and scheduled an interview. At the interview, they apologized for the low pay they were offering (and it was low). They also said that newspapers really couldn't afford to offer good health insurance packages. I could tell the job was not the best in the world, but we had just moved here and I really needed a job. I knew the job was in the bag for me. I was a shoo-in. If anything, I was overqualified. How smug I was!

I was totally unprepared when I received the letter of rejection the following week. What? Hey, I was doing them a favor even being willing to work for their measly little company! After my indignation wore off, the depression came on. If I couldn't get a piddly little job at a weekly newspaper, how would I ever get a job of substance? I wallowed in self-pity.

Suffice it to say, the very next week, I was hired guessed it - the a medical transcriptionist, something I had never really done before, but I was to get paid by production, which meant I could have control over my salary, and it seemed to be a job that would take advantage of all my skills.

Ten years later, I am making 4 times the salary that the newspaper offered me. I am in a job I really enjoy which is rewarding and challenging. I have the best health insurance in town. Being rejected by that newspaper was one of the most fortuituous things that ever happened to me!

Remember this the next time you are in the fog. When you drive out and look back, you may be pleasantly surprised at how things worked out.

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